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A Pound of Flesh or Just Proxy? Using Twin Differences to Estimate the Effect of Birth Weight on Life Chances

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  • Dalton Conley
  • Kate Strully
  • Neil G. Bennett

Abstract

Recent research into the implications of low birth weight may be plagued by unobserved variable bias. It is unclear whether the later-life consequences found to be associated with low birth weight are a true effect of poundage' at birth, or whether this association results from underlying factors related to birth weight such as genetics, gestational age, pregnancy-related behavior, or prenatal environment. In this study, we employ twin comparisons to rule out such unobserved factors and to isolate more precise effects of birth weight on infant mortality. Using data from the 1995-1997 Matched Multiple Birth Database and deducing zygosity based on the sex ratio of twin births, we examine the effects of birth weight for both fraternal and identical twins on both neonatal and post-neonatal mortality. Results suggest that in the neonatal period, low birth weight may partially be acting as a proxy for underlying genetic conditions, but in the post-neonatal period birth weight per se increases the risk of mortality. Thus, it appears that after an initial weeding-out' period in which the more severe ailments associated with genetics may be behind birth weight effects, poundage' itself has a significant impact on life chances net of genes and other pregnancy-specific health or social conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • Dalton Conley & Kate Strully & Neil G. Bennett, 2003. "A Pound of Flesh or Just Proxy? Using Twin Differences to Estimate the Effect of Birth Weight on Life Chances," NBER Working Papers 9901, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9901
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bound, John & Solon, Gary, 1999. "Double trouble: on the value of twins-based estimation of the return to schooling," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 169-182, April.
    2. Orley Ashenfelter & Cecilia Rouse, 1998. "Income, Schooling, and Ability: Evidence from a New Sample of Identical Twins," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 253-284.
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    Cited by:

    1. David S Loughran & Ashlesha Datar & M. Rebecca Kilburn, 2004. "The Interactive Effect of Birth Weight and Parental Investment on Child Test Scores," Working Papers 168, RAND Corporation.
    2. Helena Holmlund & Mikael Lindahl & Erik Plug, 2011. "The Causal Effect of Parents' Schooling on Children's Schooling: A Comparison of Estimation Methods," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(3), pages 615-651, September.
    3. Damian Clarke & Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana‐Domeque, 2021. "On the Value of Birth Weight," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 83(5), pages 1130-1159, October.
    4. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2007. "From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 409-439.
    5. Heinesen, E. & Imai, S. & Maruyama, S., 2015. "In-utero social interaction of twins," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 15/18, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    6. Adebayo, Samson B. & Fahrmeir, Ludwig & Klasen, Stephan, 2004. "Analyzing infant mortality with geoadditive categorical regression models: a case study for Nigeria," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(2), pages 229-244, June.
    7. David Loughran & Ashlesha Datar & M. Kilburn, 2008. "The response of household parental investment to child endowments," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 223-242, September.
    8. Mark E. McGovern, 2019. "How much does birth weight matter for child health in developing countries? Estimates from siblings and twins," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(1), pages 3-22, January.
    9. Fletcher, Jason M., 2011. "The medium term schooling and health effects of low birth weight: Evidence from siblings," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 517-527, June.
    10. Hans‐Peter Kohler & Jere R. Behrman & Axel Skytthe, 2005. "Partner + Children = Happiness? The Effects of Partnerships and Fertility on Well‐Being," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 31(3), pages 407-445, September.
    11. David Loughran & Ashlesha Datar & M. Kilburn, 2008. "The response of household parental investment to child endowments," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 223-242, September.
    12. David S Loughran & Ashlesha Datar & M. Rebecca Kilburn, 2004. "The Interactive Effect of Birth Weight and Parental Investment on Child Test Scores," Working Papers WR-168, RAND Corporation.

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    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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